Motorcycling is a sensory rush you simply cannot get on four wheels. If you’re a brand-new motorcyclist, the ride is best learned and enjoyed aboard a small machine. For every heavy-hitter Vincent or Indian headlining an auction stage, there are a jillion unheralded 90–200cc bikes that can provide equal joy for an iota of the price. Read the full article on Hagerty.com:
I had a Kawasaki 90 MB1MA when I was a kid and it was great bike. Super durable, easy to work on, and anyone could ride it. My neighbor had a Honda trail 90 and back then, all the neighbor kids thought the Kawasaki was super cool and the Honda 90, not so much. Of course today I would own that Trail 90 with pride!
I bought a ‘69 SL90 new off the showroom floor, after it came a few others others like: 175 Kawasaki F7, 175 Honda MR175, Honda XR350R.
About ten years ago a bought another SL90 with 1,100 original miles and totally unmolested, this one is a keeper.
If you've got a choice of the three, go for the Honda. Some parts are still available new (as in Honda is still making some of the engine parts, forget about any of the tinware), and it's going to be the most reliable of the three.
The Hodaka is pure fantasy. The line of bikes went out of production in the early 70's when the Japanese motorcycle industry settled down to the Big 4. Restoring and keeping one running today is a matter of having a couple of parts bikes stowed in the back of the garage. Plus there's a matter of finding one in the first place. Hodaka owners tend to know what they've got, and they're usually not interested in selling.
For serious riding, actually going somewhere on the street, and resembling day-to-day transportation, the Triumph Cub is the one to go for. It's got the performance, comfort, and actually has some aftermarket support, mainly because once the aftermarket covered the Triumph and BSA 650's and 500's, the Cub was the next on the list. Just the same: All those horror stories you've heard about owning a vintage British motorcycle (electrics, leaks, vibration, fragile-ness, etc.) are here on display in spades. It's nowhere near as reliable as it's vertical twin siblings, the parts availability is at best about half the bigger bikes, and you're going to be a pretty good mechanic by the time you've owned one of these for 2-3 years. There's a reason why the Japanese motorcycle industry stomped the British industry flat, and this is a prime example. It's a wonderful example of everything that was both wonderful and horrible about British motorcycles of the Sixties.
If you really want to live a wonderful history lesson, I strongly suggest owning both a Honda 90 and a Triumph Cub, and ride them both regularly. No matter what you read in books, this will drive home the motorcycling Sixties.
The Honda 90 or the later 110 is the ideal beginner bike.
Because of the centrifugal clutch, there isn’t that added problem of starting, but the bike does require shifting so one does learn about that.
After riding a 90 for a while and becoming used to riding, going to a more powerful bike with a clutch isn’t a huge leap.
It is a travesty to omit the Kawasaki KDX200 from this list. The frame geometry, the engine and the ergonomics are beginner-friendly. It starts easily and has excellent reliability, but the best thing about it is as the skill level improves, the bike's capabilities become a help instead of a hinderance.
Normally shod with knobbies, a set of quality trials-pattern tires will suffice for pavement use, should you so desire.
These bikes have started many a racer's career and whether your goal is racing or just riding for enjoyment in dirt or on the pavement, you can't go wrong with a KDX as a beginner.
I had a Suzuki 80 as a young teen. My brother bought it and I "inherited" it when he outgrew it. I had the service manual and literally took everything apart and put it back together again over several years. As a 2 stroke it was even simpler than the 4 stroke Hondas and easy to work on. Thankfully there was a local dealer just a few miles away where I could get all the parts. It was a fun bike.
My recollection is that the Hodaka had an unbelievably high revving engine. I think the cruising speed worked out to 7,000 rpm. When it was doing 35 mph it sounded like it was going for the land speed record. Back when they were brand new and Hondas were ubiquitous I can only remember seeing one Hodaka; I can't believe there are any left.
As a little kid, I always envied other kids in the neighborhood who flew by on Ace 100's, Honda CT-70's, and Briggs & Stratton powered mini bikes. These seemed to be the "learning bikes" to me at the time. My older brother got a big tire, Honda 50 and that was a big deal. But when it came time I was old enough to beg for a street bike like ones shown above, my mother said, "If you can come to my office and look at something, we can talk about it". She worked as a secretary at a funeral home and when I got down there, she walked me into the chapel where a guy was in an open casket with a sheet over his head. She said, "Ok, if you can look at this guy who died riding a motorcycle, we'll talk". I ran. My Sting Ray would suffice from that day forward. My mom knew as crazy as I rode my bike and how my brother rode his Honda, that much more speed on the street would probably give me the same result as the "guy at work".
Kind of odd that your recommendation of starter motorcycles for new riders are all old "classics" that are priced relatively high due to their nostalgia value to older riders and will likely required significant repair costs by people not equipped to make them and will also be less reliable and safer for those who most need those attributes. If the title was "Classic Small Motorcycles" then your choices would be fine. A better choice for new riders would be any of the new small displacement motorcycles on the market today.
mine was a 1971 ct-70H K0, still have it. Haven't folded down the bars and stuck it in the trunk of a car for years. Brought a tear to my eye when 1st rode after restoring. the exhaust note is very identifiable
My first bike was a black Honda S90, just like the one in the drawing. It was the perfect starter bike. For quite a few years there were no comparable starter bikes and all too many kids started out with bikes that way over-matched their skills. No one should learn how to ride on a GSXR.